Happy 18th birthday… with an OQTF!

The fear of the Obligation to Leave the French Territory (OQTF). But, above all, the story of 120 youth arrived in France as unaccompanied minors (MNA), who created ACTION LES JEUNES 54! Behind them, thousands of others across France.

Poverty, neglect, violence. Then, long and dangerous journeys when, sometimes, less than 10 years old. Arrival, alone, in France. Waiting for several months before being taken care of by Social Assistance for Children (ASE). Always with no family nearby. Then, when finally a little bit stronger and more independent, at 18 years old, an OQTF arrives. The expulsion ... which puts an end to this whole journey.

A state of uncertainty and fear, to which a group of youth has decided to resist peacefully, but steadily. Supported by many civil society organizations, they have decided together to change their strategy: no longer simply circles of silence at Place Stanislas in Nancy. For the first time in Meurthe-et-Moselle, they have created a special youth group. "It's called Action Les Jeunes 54! », - they explain together with the organizations, while giving an exclusive interview for Pro IDE.

 The drop that spilled the cup

There was, of course, the Zemmour case. But in January 2021, the story of 18-year-old Laye Fodé Traoré from Besançon sparked a debate that civil society, wide public and intellectuals took quite seriously.

 Since 2019, he had been learning the profession of baker thanks to an apprenticeship contract with Stéphane Ravacley. But on November 25, 2020, when he had just turned 18, Laye received an OQTF. “When he became 18, the gendarmes arrived because they saw on their computer that he was an adult. But they don't know that he works well and that he is a good guy. This is a policy of short duration that I do not understand”, - confided his boss to Liberation newspaper.S. Ravacley was able to gain media attention by going on a hunger strike on January 5. To prevent his apprentice from being expelled, he continued his strike even after finding himself into the emergency room.

« Je demande donc à tous les jeunes étrangers venus mineurs et déjà installés en France de venir aider. N’oubliez pas ! Ici, les gens ont besoin de motivation, de soutien, d’optimisme et d’idées constructives. Ils ont attendu les réponses des institutions pendant des mois, parfois des années. Savez-vous combien il est difficile d’attendre ? Surtout quand on est mineur ou jeune ? ».

And then, a statement by Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Labor, Employment and Vocational Training. On January 8, 2021, she was questioned about Traoré's situation. "In principle, it should not happen like that", she estimated. "When we welcome unaccompanied minors who engage in training, after two years, if everything went well, then they can continue to work in France. But this is a special case. There is a dispute over his situation, (…) the judicial authorities will have to decide ".

A special case?

Apparently, the case of Traoré was not a special one and dozens of associations in the basin of Nancy, not very far from Besançon, gathered their datas. Two weeks after E. Borne's statement, they issued a press release. “… Réseau Education Sans Frontière ( RESF) was able to observe in the Nancy basin that currently more than 70 unaccompanied minors, enrolled in a vocational training diploma by apprenticeship (CFA) in fields in deficit of labor (baker, catering agent, room service, masonry, mechanic, car bodybuilder, ...) who see their apprenticeship contract stopped on the day of their 18 years. This has happened due to the contestation of their identity, or even simply because of administrative slowness or unexpected changes in the procedures for submitting regularization demands at the prefecture…", -says the press release signed by RESF and Etats Generaux de Migrations together with the associations and unions like A Toit Pour Les Migrants, FSU, CGT, LDH, MAN, SAF, SOLIDAIRES, SUD Education, Amnesty International.

70 cases in the Nancy basin alone, which has 62 municipalities. There is no estimate for the whole of Metropolitan France and we can only calculate approximate figures for its 34,839 municipalities.

In addition to the public reopening of a long-standing debate, Traore's story ended well: the 18-year-old boy, thanks to his boss's hunger strike and a petition signed by 200,000 people, had a residence permit. But others are not so lucky. The media are full of these sad stories of young people - children just some days ago - who did their best to obtain the right to stay in France: rapid learning of the language, excellent behavior and very good grades at school, volunteer work, employers who are ready to hire them - and who are nevertheless obliged to return to their country of origin.

Things are moving up in Meurthe-et-Moselle

In a few weeks, 120 young people joined ACTION LES JEUNES 54! with regularly clarified objectives. “First, to help each other. Then, educate the public because there is a lot of misunderstanding on our issue. And for this, we prepare and distribute flyers and information to raise awareness in Meurthe-et-Moselle, with perseverance and calm. In addition, we have been exerting positive pressure for weeks now to meet with the prefect. We believe that when he will see and hear us, he will be more open-minded about us. We will explain to him the long path of integration we have succeed in France, our desire to contribute to the country that welcomed us when we were children. It was the people, the French, who helped us, even when the institutions took us out, as in my case.”. The one who says these words is Moussa, a 20-year-old from Guinea, with a rich French, who has been regularized in France two years ago. He will now pass the pass the baccalaureate in the social field. He is late because it took a long time for the French institutions to recognize him as a minor, so that he could enroll him in school.

“… More than 70 young unaccompanied minors enrolled in vocational training leading to an apprenticeship (CFA) in fields with a shortage of manpower (baker, catering agent, waiter, mason, mechanic, bodybuilder, etc.) see their apprenticeship contract stopped on their 18th birthday ... 

A long and painful story, at the end of which Moussa did not retain any resentment.

On the contrary. He became even stronger and aware that everything gets better if people can sit down at the table and listen to each other. And that the pursuit of human rights begins with those who are suffering. "I found myself at the head of this team, even though I am already legalized and can study and work in peace. But I can never forget how difficult it was and how much I was helped by the others, firstly by the French. I therefore ask all youth foreigners who have come as Unaccompanied Minors (MNA) and lave legally settled in France, to come and help. Don't forget! People here need motivation, support, optimism and constructive ideas. They have been waiting for answers of the institutions for months, sometimes for years. Do you know how difficult it is to wait? Especially when one is minor or young? ".

The prefect

It is also difficult to wait for the prefect, but they did not sit idly by. They found him where the latter probably did not expect them at all. For the more, they found him together with Prime Minister Jean Castex and Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer, in a high school in Laxou. "… Castex and Blanquer came to the Nancy area, and went to the Héré high school in Laxou. A young isolated minor was part of the group of students selected to meet the Ministers. He warned the group Actions les Jeunes 54! ... a letter to the Ministers was concocted, with his cooperation. He was thus able to challenge the ministers and discuss with them (and with the Prefect in a second step) about the specific difficulties to young migrants in France, their fears concerning the OQTFs so frequently issued after they become 18 years old. It is not certain that this sequence is reflected in the media, but what is certain… is that the young people… have gained in pride and in a feeling of recognition ”, - said Johan Chanal of RESF 54, in a communication of May 3 2021. But the young people did not give up meeting the prefect in person. On May 16, they sent him a letter, inviting him again in a meeting. A link here to the video that relates this moment. .

The results of this joint work between migrant youth and civil society are already obvious: they did receive a positive response. “On June 15, a delegation of 4 members of the group has an appointment with the Prefect of Meurthe-et-Moselle… One of the objectives of this meeting…is to humanize the Prefecture’s point of view regarding them, to humanize their filing process”, - declares RESF 54, which also worked a lot to obtain such a meeting.

Contacting them?

Motivate and support each other, but also the non-immigrant residents. Part of ACTION LES JEUNES 54!’s work is focused on helping others. Like on this May 8 when many of them, with bags full of food, roamed the streets of Nancy to distribute it to the homeless and talk to them. A common truth, which is far from the “criminal” image of the MNA often served in the media, without properly analyzing the causes. And that, unfortunately, makes life infinitely difficult for others, for those who work, study, help. And who constitute the majority of them.

There was, of course, the Zemmour case. But in January 2021, the story of 18-year-old Laye Fodé Traoré from Besançon sparked a debate that civil society, wide public and intellectuals took quite seriously.

How can you connect with them? “The ACTION LES JEUNES 54! group is open to all youth awaiting regularization in Meurthe-et-Moselle. As well as for those who are already regularized, but who want to help. On Facebook, young people can find us with Tous Pour la Regularization," they explain to IDE. Meanwhile, a WhatsApp group has been created. "To participate, just contact one of the young founders, who will first take care of adding the newcomer to the list of this group. To get a contact, send an SMS to 07 77 34 79 83 ", - explain the associations.

Youth group ACTION LES JEUNES 54! during one of the activities in Stanislas Square, Nancy, Meurthe-et-Moselle, April 2021. Photo credit Pro IDE

This article is produced as part of the “Migration, Youth and Internet” project. It is written by Elda Spaho Bleta, volunteer of the local group Oxfam in Nancy, who paid close attention to the information given. The sources of the information are cited, and when personal advice is given, it is the sole responsibility of the editor. If, despite her attention, an error had slipped into the document, please report it to her by writing to nancy@oxfamfrance.org. This article is published with the funds of the French Development Agency, Grand Est Solidarités et Coopérations pour le Développement (GESCOD), and with the support of Oxfam France. The content of the articles does not engage the structures previously named.

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